In my previous post, I discussed how the culture has made an indelible mark on today’s Church. There’s a statement making its way around social media which addresses culture and the church. While there are various versions, the image (below left) is one I screen-shot from Facebook.
Considering the number of places online where I’ve noticed this (and similar) expressions of concern, I think it’s safe to say many people are becoming more aware of the downward slide of the church. According to a 2019 Gallup poll, US church membership has declined sharply over the last two decades. An even more recent poll shows US church membership falling to its lowest level ever.
It’s difficult to identify the exact cause (or causes) of this decline. Some observers have even suggested the slide began in 1517 when a priest named Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the All Saints’ Church in Wittenburg (Germany). Luther was, after all, challenging church authority and doing so in a very public way.
A pithy observation has tucked itself away within my memory. Though I can’t recall who said it (else I’d provide proper attribution), the comment begs for reflection and due consideration, especially as our social norms face new challenges almost every day.
Over the years, the terminology for a Report Card has morphed into something meant to sound less ominous: Progress Report … Student Assessment … Quarterly Evaluation. Still, whatever it’s called, this periodic report often causes unnecessary dread for the person (or organization) being evaluated. Continue reading “Culture As Report Card – Part I”→
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6
Our church held Christmas Eve services yesterday. They’ve held similar services every year, I guess, but since we’re usually at home with family, this was the first time we’d taken part. The particular service we attended was designed as a family service so lots of children were in attendance. We’d been told it might be noisy … and it was.
Christmas decorations were beautifully displayed in the large foyer outside the worship center. A Christmas tree … pictures of angels painted on large canvases … a child-size Manger / Nativity scene … the kind of seasonal displays where families gather to snap a Christmas photo.
I happened to stand in front of the Manger scene and my attention was drawn in. The figures and presentation were similar to numerous displays I’ve observed through the years … but something was off. When my daughter-in-law walked up next to me, she noticed it as well. “Joseph’s foot is larger than the Baby Jesus and the manger together!” she said.
She was right. The standing figures were proportionally out of sync with the Child lying in the manger, as if two different Nativity scenes had been (carelessly) combined. I should have taken a quick picture of the scene but I found it too grotesque.
Like Mary (Luke 2:19), I’m given to pondering the inescapable irony. With all the various ways in which we celebrate Christmas, has the occasion’s central meaning (focused on the singular Person of Jesus Christ) been shoved into the background? As the shopping and gift-giving and parties and feasting keep us hyper-busy, does the Babe in a Manger recede to forgetfulness?
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love Christmas! It’s a joyous time and should be celebrated with gusto and jubilance! Christ is come! Let us worship and adore Him!
Still, I’m the first to admit I can go overboard and the temptation (too often) is to get things out of balance. The unfortunate image of a shrinking Baby Jesus will stick in my brain and (I’m hopeful) nudge me to remember always the real basis for our hope, joy, peace and love — our Saviour’s birth.
May God bless you on this special day. Merry Christmas!
On Palm Sunday when we were kids, it was the custom (as we exited the church building after services) for an usher to give each of us a small palm branch to carry home. It was an odd thing, meant (I suppose) to commemorate Jesus entering Jerusalem while riding a donkey. John 12:13 tells us “they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him” and they acknowledged Jesus as “the king of Israel.”
Looking at the palm leaves (the above image is just one example), I’m struck today by their beauty and symmetry. During childhood, I think we used the branches to tickle and torment each other. Today, my usual impulse is one of contemplation. These green fronds hold the last droplets of morning dew and invite peaceful reflection. Continue reading “Each Day As God’s Gift”→
Based on my earliest memories, I’ve viewed the day through the same lens as Andy Williams. It’s magical — a day of mystery (gift-giving and receiving)! It’s a day for love and sharing, spending time with family and dear ones.
For all the commercialization of Christmas Day/Christmas Season, it’s easy to be side-tracked with activities and busy-ness. I try to take time every year to remind myself of the true meaning and long-lasting ramifications of this perennial celebration. It’s about Christ, the babe in a manger, the second person of the Trinity who took on flesh — not to enjoy the good life, but to DIE! The God-Man entered Time to provide eternal Life for those who receive Him as Savior.
Throughout the ages, Christmas is and has been the most wonderful time of the year! All because of God’s Gift! I’ve reprinted below the narrative as told by the physician Luke in the second chapter of his Gospel.
In those days Caesar Augustusissued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
As you ponder the details of this narrative, may you enjoy the blessings of knowing Christ personally. Merry Christmas to you on this amazing, special day!
Resurrection Day was a day like none other in the history of mankind! John 20 tells us: “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.” The heavy stone which had been covering the entrance was rolled aside! The crucified Jesus was no longer buried within!
What a shock that must have been for the people who followed Jesus! He’d been buried in a tomb, a heavy stone was positioned and the chief priests set some kind of seal on the stone. For extra security (Matthew 27:65-66), Pilate permitted them to post a guard at the tomb. No one was getting in or out of that tomb!
Remember 2020? It was March 11, 2020 when all the purported experts instructed people (all over the globe) that we needed “15 days to slow the spread.“ That 15 days turned into a month … and then six weeks … and here we are (a year later) still laboring through various “baby steps” in hopes of recovering some semblance of normalcy.
Does it seem like it’s been a year? From my vantage point, it seems as if a decade or more has gone by! When children look back on this time, I can just hear the question to grandma or grandpa: Granny & Gramps, what was the world like when people didn’t have to wear masks or social distance? Were you really allowed to go outside your house with faces uncovered?!!Continue reading “The 15-Day Year”→
Black History Month for 2021 ends today. I had been thinking about a comedian, Flip Wilson, who was the first African-American to host a successful ’70s-era variety show on television. Though he died in 1998, one of Wilson’s standard routines was built around the statement: the devil made me do it! The 5-minute 1970 video (below) from the Ed Sullivan Show provides a taste of Wilson’s humor.
Since I am ignorant of most pop culture, I was unaware there’s also a rapper album titled The Devil Made Me Do It, plus other references (none I’m familiar with). My only point of reference is Flip Wilson’s skit from the 70s. But a recent Facebook post reminded me of Wilson’s skit. (If you’re on Facebook, you’ve probably seen the same post.)
To the left is a screen capture (not the full FB post) but enough for it to be recognizable. The post emphasizes the similarities between our current age of fear (centered around Covid etc.) and the author’s suggestions on how to foment fear from “nearly 79 years ago.”
Who can explain love? L-O-V-E … Is love that junior high twitter-pation you experience when sitting across the lunch table from him/her? Is it that crazy weak-kneed feeling you get while dancing with your prom date? Or maybe the head-spinning breathlessness on your wedding day as you gaze down the aisle into the eyes of your future spouse? Maybe it’s all the above? Or none of the above? What is love?
When someone possesses the figurative key to your heart (beautifully illustrated above), you’re likely to experience a host of emotions, even contradictory emotions. Doomed … when your love seems to go unrequited. Blissful … when your loved one loves you back. Inconsolable … when something unforeseen has happened to your loved one. You may well face an emotional roller coaster whenever love is involved. Continue reading “What Is Love?”→
No matter where we live or what our stage in life, all of us have a common problem: our world is broken. It’s easy to name the multiple ills that seem to overwhelm our 21st century earthbound reality. Just a small list will suffice here – poverty, war, hunger, racism, disease. Yes, there are ample reasons to declare: life sucks.
As individuals, we’re also broken. We muddle through life in the midst of our brokenness. Thankfully, the grace of God is available to redeem us from the despair and despond. That is superb Good News! No matter how broken we are, because Christ died for us, we’re not without hope.
No one knows how many people across the world suffer from soul-killing hopelessness that mars their lives, almost from the moment of birth. (I suspect that number is staggering beyond belief.) My high school teacher used the phrase, man’s inhumanity to man, but whether it’s a tyrannical government or a caregiver being abusive and cruel, we know there’s suffering over which we’re unable to exert even the most minimal control. Continue reading “Brokenness”→